Predicting the NFL's All-Pro Teams for 2012
If you ask 10 people who the best quarterback in the NFL is, chances are you'll get two or three solid answers and one or two wild fans who think Michael Vick is a top-three quarterback. Thankfully the NFL All-Pro team does a pretty good job identifying who the best performer at each position was in the previous year.
Decided by the media, the All-Pro team is a more respected version of what the Pro Bowl is supposed to be—an award and recognition for hard work and excellence. Which players are on the early watch list for 2012?
Some players are perennial locks to make the All-Pro team, but we've tried to avoid that by going with a predictive look at which players will make the 2012 first- and second-team All-Pro rosters.
Tom Brady makes his return as the first-team quarterback on our All-Pro team. Brady is elite, that's not worth questioning, and with a loaded roster of talent around him, the 2012 season is poised to be one of his best ever.
Brady is always a contender for an All-Pro vote, and this year should be a walk in the park for No. 12.
Rodgers took home first-team All-Pro last season, and is talented enough to do it again in 2012. The only concern keeping Rodgers from topping Brady is the quality of the left side of his offensive line. Rodgers' line isn't as good as Brady's, and at the end of the day that small difference could keep him from posting the numbers he put up in 2011.
First Team: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Maurice Jones-Drew would have been the pick here, but his holdout into training camp is enough of a concern that we're holding out on placing him on the list. Even with MJD on the roster, LeSean McCoy looks ready to take over the NFL as the best all-around back in the game.
McCoy benefits from a scheme that funnels the ball through him, but his ankle-breaking, jaw-dropping agility and open-field speed makes him one of the NFL's most dangerous players. McCoy will pick up big numbers as a rusher and receiver, good enough to put him firmly in place as the best in the game.
Second Team: Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Rice and McCoy are very similar, and will put up comparable numbers, but McCoy is more likely to break out the highlight-reel runs that stick in the minds of voters. Not to take anything away from Rice, who is a wrecking ball between the tackles and a very good receiver in the flats.
Rice plays in a tougher division defensively, which may limit his numbers compared to others, but he's elite in his own right.
First Team: Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens
Leach is a punishing blocker, and by opening up holes for a marquee running back he gets much more recognition than those fullbacks who play fewer downs or for a less talented back.
Leach's ability to open holes is legendary among NFL players. He's highly thought of among his peers and those in the media. He's bar none the best fullback in the game today.
Second Team: Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers
Tolbert played mostly running back in San Diego last season due to injuries, but now in Carolina he'll be used more as a running fullback in the Panthers offense. He has some learning to do as a blocker, but his running and catching ability will make him dangerous in a backfield loaded with talent.
The choice of Calvin Johnson here is really a no-brainer. As long as he's healthy, few players in the NFL are going to be able to stop Megatron with single or double coverage. He'll be an All-Pro for a long, long time.
Julio Jones may be a surprise, but he's primed for a big year under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Jones put his talents on display to open the preseason with a 100-plus yard receiving game in limited time. If he can live up to expectations during the regular season, he'll blow up the NFC.
Jordy Nelson doesn't seem to get much national attention, but he played a huge role in Aaron Rodgers' big season in 2011. Nelson is a touchdown and yards-after-catch machine who will have a giant season for the Packers again this year.
Don't be surprised to see Brandon Marshall here. He's finally back in a system that fits his talents, and he's teamed up again with Jay Cutler. The two have looked dynamite in training camp. If that carries over to the regular season, watch out.
First Team: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Here's an easy pick. Gronkowski had a coming-out party in 2011, and now that he's fully healthy, his 2012 season should be even better with the Patriots adding outside weapons to draw safeties outside the middle of the field. Gronk has a chance to best his huge numbers from 2011.
Second Team: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Jimmy Graham is such a fun player to watch, and the struggles of NFL defenders to stop him is just as amusing. Graham is a freakishly big tight end who somehow moves like a wide receiver. His size, speed and hands make him almost impossible to stop.
The only reason Gronkowski gets the nod over Graham is due to pass blocking. Gronkowski edges out Graham in this area, so he's our first-teamer.
The Cleveland Browns have one of the NFL's best in Joe Thomas, who even in a down year is considered one of the top five left tackles in the game. Thomas may be surrounded by a host of young players, but he's still the mold from which all left tackles are graded.
Winston is a newcomer to Kansas City, but he'll pick up right where he left off in Houston. Winston could have been an All-Pro candidate last year for his work in the Texans offense. In a higher-profile offense this year, he'll get the credit he deserved last year.
Jake Long continues to be one of the best, and after a 2011 season that saw his play limited by injury, he'll be back and ready to dominate in 2012. The Dolphins may not be a playoff contender, but Long is good enough to stand out from the crowd even on a subpar team.
Tyron Smith makes the move over to left tackle this season for Dallas, and by all accounts he's going to be a good one. Smith played well over his head as a rookie on the right side last fall, and if he holds up as well on the blind side, he's going to be a household name very soon.
First Team: Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
The move of Carl Nicks from New Orleans to Tampa Bay won't affect his All-Pro status. No matter where Nicks is lining up, he's an elite interior blocker as both a run blocker and pass protector.
Yanda can play tackle or guard for Baltimore, but he's best when inside at right guard. Lining up next to Michael Oher, Yanda is a powerful run blocker who has a big part of Ray Rice's production on his shoulders.
Second Team: Logan Mankins, New England Patriots and Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints
Logan Mankins is one of the most respected blockers in the NFL by members of the media and his peers. Mankins has long been a key part of the Patriots' offensive scheme due to his strength and versatility.
The Saints may have lost one All-Pro in Nicks, but they still have one of the best in Jahri Evans. He's a quick pass protector who can move the pocket for mobile quarterback Drew Brees.
First Team: Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
There are many great centers to chose from in the NFL today, but Ryan Kalil has a chance to really stand out this year. With a backfield that features Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, Kalil will be opening holes for some of the most electric players in the game.
Second Team: Nick Mangold, New York Jets
Nick Mangold remains one of the best. Plain and simple. He's as well-rounded as any center in the NFL, and a strong case can be made that he is the best in the game today. Whether it's in the run game or when making line calls pre-snap, Mangold is elite.
Jared Allen's assault on the single-season sack record was one of the best stories of the 2011 season. He has another chance to do it again this fall, and you can bet that barring injury, Allen will be an All-Pro again in 2012.
There are so many players to chose from, but Jason Pierre-Paul has the right mix of existing production and future potential to stay on the All-Pro list not only in 2012, but for a long time coming. His numbers should sky-rocket in 2012 now that he's an every-down player.
Second Team: Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins and Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears
Julius Peppers isn't an 18-sack guy like Jared Allen, but he's overall one of the most talented and consistent players at the position in the NFL. With Henry Melton improving next to him at tackle, Peppers should see more opportunities for one-on-one blocking—which means more sacks.
The move to a 4-3 base defense in Miami means that the Dolphins' Cameron Wake will be listed as a defensive end on our All-Pro ballot. Wake dominated at the position previously, and there's no reason to think he can't be a double-digit sack guy again in 2012.
First Team: Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers and Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
Haloti Ngati is one of the best players in the NFL—regardless of position. His versatility along the Ravens defensive line makes him invaluable in their defense. If the Ravens can win without Terrell Suggs, Ngata will be a big reason for it.
Justin Smith plays defensive end, but since the 49ers are in a 3-4 defense he gets votes as a defensive tackle. After the 2011 season, Smith was voted as a first-team DT and second-team DE, a huge credit to his amazing play for the 49ers defense.
Geno Atkins is a name many may not know yet, but he's on the brink of being a big-name player. Atkins' ability to split gaps and rush the passer, plus his tough play against the run, is reason enough to have him in All-Pro consideration.
The Houston Texans hit the jackpot when they drafted J.J. Watt in the first round of the 2011 draft. Like Smith, Watt plays end in a 3-4 defense, but he'll get All-Pro votes this year no matter the position you want to list him at.
First Team: DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys and Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Von Miller made his mark on the NFL with a performance for the ages in 2011. He'll be expected to do more in 2012, as the Broncos better know how to use his talents. Miller is a pass-rush specialist who will garner serious All-Pro consideration if he improves against the run.
You can't make a list of All-Pro players and not include DeMarcus Ware at outside linebacker. Ware is, hands down, the best pass-rushing outside linebacker in the NFL today. If Jared Allen doesn't break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record, Ware has a chance to do it himself.
Second Team: Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs and Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
The Chiefs defense is expected to do big things this year, and the No. 1 reason for that is Hali. His ability to control the game from the outside linebacker position makes him one of the NFL's most dangerous players.
Aldon Smith set the NFL on fire last year with his third-down pass rushing, but this year he'll be asked to do it all for the 49ers as a three-down player. Smith is supremely talented off the edge, and we're betting on his talent to win out and propel him into an All-Pro selection.
First Team: Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers and NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
During the 2011 season, there was no better inside linebacker tandem than Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco. With all 11 starters back on defense, the 49ers are expected to dominate once again. If they do play as expected, Willis and Bowman will be locks as first-team All-Pros.
Second Team: Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs and Brian Cushing, Houston Texans
Derrick Johnson realized his potential last year, and after watching him in training camp this summer there is no reason to think he'll back down now. Johnson is a rare athlete who can rush the passer, stop the run and drop back into zone coverage from the MIKE position.
Ray Lewis may be the player many want to see here, but a true All-Pro ballot will reflect performance in 2012 and not an entire career's worth of plays. Lewis is an all-time great, but for this season alone, Brian Cushing is our man. Cushing is the key cog in the Texans defense, and if they run through the AFC as many expect, he'll be receiving many accolades in the postseason.
First Team: Darrelle Revis, New York Jets and Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens
Darrelle Revis is a no-brainer. Any list without him would need to be thrown out. Revis Island exists for a reason.
Opposite Revis there is a glut of talented cornerbacks, but we're going with a lesser-known player who is primed for a huge season—Lardarius Webb. The Ravens' best cover man had an excellent 2011 season, and with better play opposite him, quarterbacks will be faced with a dilemma anytime they have to target this up-and-comer.
Second Team: Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia Eagles and Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons
The second-team cornerbacks could be almost anyone, so don't get too offended if your favorite player isn't here. The pick of Brent Grimes and Nnamdi Asomugha is based on their ability to lock down No. 1 receivers, the fact that both will play on higher-profile defenses and the fact that both are clearly in the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL today.
First Team: Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers and Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry is back healthy after missing the 2011 season, and that means his bright, young career is ready to take off. Berry is one of the single-most talented athletes in the game, and that will show up in big plays this fall.
You could take your pick of safeties opposite Berry, but taking the guy who tied for the lead in interceptions last season is a good bet. Eric Weddle gets the nod from us as the best free safety in the NFL.
Second Team: Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers and Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
Charles Woodson was an All-Pro cornerback last year—and many times before that—so his move on the depth chart to safety shouldn't affect his All-Pro status. Woodson will pick up where he left off last year with another brilliant season.
Ed Reed has lost a step, but he's still one of the most feared and respected players in the game. When Bill Belichick is telling Tom Brady to find you before every play, you're deserving of an All-Pro nod.
First Team: Garrett Hartley, New Orleans Saints
Second Team: Nate Kaeding, San Diego Chargers
The nod for All-Pro kicker generally goes to a high-scoring offense, which allows the kicker opportunities to score heavily. Both Hartley and Kaeding are on big-play offenses led by top quarterbacks. The fact that Hartley plays in a dome helps his cause, but make no mistake, both kickers mentioned here can get the job done.
First Team: Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers
Second Team: Shane Lechler, Oakland Raiders
The Bay Area has a lock down on talented punters. Andy Lee graded out tops in our B/R 1,000 NFL ratings, while Lechler wasn't far behind. Despite horrible conditions in San Francisco and Oakland, our two All-Pro punters are consistently among the best in the NFL.
First Team: Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
Second Team: Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs
Sproles and McCluster offer value as more than just return men, but their ability to turn a game upside down with one punt or kick return makes them feared men in today's NFL.